Researchers discover potential new therapy for chemotherapy-resistant breast cancer

January 18, 2021

Scientists have discovered a molecule that can selectively kill cells of a hard-to-treat subtype of breast cancer, which could lead to a new therapy.

The study, led by researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is published in the current edition of Science Advances.

Triple negative breast cancer is a subtype of breast cancer which is mainly treated with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, up to 70% of patients with this form of breast cancer develop resistance to treatment.

The researchers tested different molecules to see if they could selectively kill the cells of this type of breast cancer while sparing normal cells. They found that a specific molecule, BAS-2, was able to do this.

"Our aim now is to develop the small molecule into a more drug-like compound and to assess if we can harness the new function for potentially improved treatment of patients," said Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile, the study's corresponding author and an RCSI lecturer in Physiology and Medical Physics.

To better understand how the molecule killed the cells, the researchers confirmed that it inhibited an enzyme called HDAC6. Using state-of-the art mass spectrometry, the researchers identified, for the first time, that HDAC6 plays a key role in altering energy in these cancer cells.
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The work was funded by the Wellcome Trust Seed Award, L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and Science Foundation Ireland's Frontiers for the Future Programme. In addition to those from RCSI, the work was carried out by researchers from the UCD Conway Institute of Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences, NYU Langone Medical Center, Penn State University, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School.

With the help of RCSI's Office of Research and Innovation, the researchers have submitted a patent around this work and are seeking industry partners to further develop this treatment.

About RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

Ranked number one globally for Good Health and Well-being in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings 2020, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is an international not-for-profit university, with its headquarters in Dublin.

RCSI is exclusively focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide. It is among the top 250 universities worldwide in the THE World University Rankings (2020) and its research is ranked first in Ireland for citations. RCSI has been awarded Athena Swan Bronze accreditation for positive gender practice in higher education.

Visit the RCSI MyHealth Expert Directory to find the details of our experts across a range of healthcare issues and concerns. Recognising their responsibility to share their knowledge and discoveries to empower people with information that leads them to better health, these clinicians and researchers are willing to engage with the media in their area of expertise.

RCSI

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